Summary of our Cruise – Written for Cruising Newsletter on our way back across Bass Strait…Motoring

Before leaving RBYC.

Packing Chakana, getting ready,

For the biennial Van Diemen’s Land Cruise.

Premade meals, fresh fruit and veges,

Spare parts, engine service, dinghy.

Fleeces, shorts, what clothes to choose?

It’s Tassie, I must pack my thermals!

 

Spinnaker out through Bass Strait.

Sailed across Bass Strait,

Down the Tassie east coast,

Shorts still the clothes of choice.

Through Schouten Passage, Denison Canal

With white beaches, fair winds, fine weather.

But not cold enough for thermals!

 

Jill and Robina.

Start of the cruise,

Forty five boats,

All kitted out to circle Tasmania,

Up the coast, shorts still de rigeour,

All following Cruise Commodore Dave.

And I haven’t need for my thermals.

 

Sunset on way down the west coast.

Round the top,

Through Hunter Passage,

Past Bird Island, dodged the rocks,

Heading south in the Roaring Forties.

Motoring, motoring all the way.

Magnificent sunsets, glassy seas,

Storms and winds have stayed away.

Locker still holds my thermals.

 

 

Reflections on Gordon River.

Macquarie Harbour,

Gordon and Franklin Rivers,

Hells Gates usually show their fury,

Where tidal streams build monster waves.

But motoring, motoring, in light winds,

Blue skies, flat seas,

Plenty of socialising,

In shorts but not the thermals.

 

Dinghies on beach at Clytie Cove.

Further south,

Port Davey.

Furious gales, wild storms and tempests.

I have heard about them all.

But.. motoring, motoring , motoring

Huey has other thoughts this year,

Maybe a fleece or longer trousers

But much too warm for thermals.

 

South East Cape

Last chance,

Maatsuyker Island.

South West, South East, South Capes.

The roaring forties can bare their teeth,

We’re ready for Huey’s worst.

But…motoring, motoring, motoring,

Flat seas, bright sunshine, idle sails.

Still don’t need my thermals!

 

De Entrecasteaux Channel,

Recherche Bay.

Barbecues at Dover and Cygnet

Plenty of sunshine, warm balmy nights,

Cruisers under the stars celebrating

Our successful circumnavigation of Tasmania,

With neither a storm nor tempest.

What useless things did I pack… my thermals!

Advertisements

Chakana Returns from Hobart

After the dinner/party/celebrations of the dinner for the completion of the VDL Circumnavigation it was time to think about the 480nm return trip to Melbourne, but not before some final days in Hobart and the last cruise in the Channel.

A highlight for us was MONA, the world-renowned Museum of Old and New Art established by David Walsh.  The art is fabulous, challenging and an excellent example of what can be achieved when an individual surrounds himself with clever people and has the drive and money to make a vision happen.  It is without doubt the premier tourist attraction in Hobart, and justifiably so.  Being a miner and engineer, I was enthralled with the sandstone walls of the gallery, which is mostly sunk into the ground.  The vision of the architects to see the potential of this location, and the skills of the engineers and artisans to cut the sandstone so that its visual impact is maximised is something to behold.  In a nutshell, if you ever go to Hobart then ensure that you go to MONA, and if you are not planning on going to Hobart, then change your plans and make sure that you do.

Robina’s sister Verity and her husband Eddy joined us in Hobart and we gave them a taster of the cruising lifestyle by taking them down to Quarantine Bay in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and back again to Hobart.  The perfect weather continued and so they had a pleasant introduction – no leaning over at strange angles.  A highlight was the discovery of the Chocolate Shop in Kettering, where, although it has a major marina, there is virtually no infrastructure.  The chocolates are all hand-made and are exquisite in taste and style, especially their chocolate Florentines.

Amongst these activities, I scored a tour of the Incat facility with the previous Chief Engineer.  Incat is another iconic modern enterprise in Hobart that constructs art in the form of aluminium catamarans for fast ferries or freight transfer vessels.  Incat is a modern facility leading much of the world in the construction and operation of high speed catamarans.  The largest of these are more than 100m in length.

But the inevitable time arrived when we had to leave Hobart to return Chakana and ourselves to Melbourne.  A group of around six Melbourne boats had circumnavigated Tasmania under the auspices of the VDL Rally and had commenced their circumnavigation at Queenscliff, and hence were still continuing from Hobart back to Queenscliff.  We joined them, participating in their radio scheds, and two more barbeques on the beach.

Sunrise over Tasman Peninsula.

After waiting a day for a fierce cold front to pass through Hobart, we left RYCT early on Tuesday morning, and had a vigorous sail across the Derwent River and Norfolk Bay to the Denison Canal, passing through it at 9am just behind It’s a Privilege.  As always, pilotage through Blackman Bay was challenging but we made it through without scraping any anti-foul paint from the bottom of the keel.  After crossing the sandbar at the northern end of Blackman’s Bay we made our way up Mercury Passage to Chinaman’s Bay on Maria Island.  It was a long day, which was the first of several that are required if you want to make some miles north and west to Melbourne.

Next day was unsuitable for making progress towards Melbourne with strong northerly winds so we walked across to the convict ruins in this part of Maria Island.  One of the frequent observations about the activities of the convicts was their industriousness, probably forced, and the ambition of the ruling classes.  They certainly did set out to dominate this landscape that they had come to, and for which neither the convicts nor their minders volunteered.  Apart from being a penal colony, it does not appear that there was any other economic activity here associated with this particular settlement.  This is in contrast to other places in Tasmania where agriculture and boat building were major economic activities for the convict settlements.  They were almost symbiotic because the wholesale felling of trees to construct boats provided land for agriculture.

With the return of gentle southerly winds we moved to Crocketts Bay on the north end of Schouten Island via the seal colony on Ile des Phoques.

Seal and cormorant colonies on Ile des Phoques.

Crocketts Bay

Here we joined the ‘Geelong Fleet’, as the returning yachts were known, and mustered ashore in a rain shower for a barbeque.

An absence of any significant easterly swell and light winds encouraged us to move to one of the iconic attractions of the east coast of Tasmania, Wineglass Bay, so called due to its shape when viewed from the air.  It is located on the ocean side of the Freycinet Peninsula and is a major tourist attraction to the extent that if you are unlucky enough you will find a cruise ship anchored in the bay at the same time.  There are many day trippers from the nearby resort at Coles Bay that hike across to Wineglass Bay.  The hike reduces the numbers with which you have to share the beach.

We spent two nights here, the second with an easterly onshore breeze, but with the good holding and absence of swell, we remained comfortable.  A highlight was walking up to the lookout to overlook the bay and the surrounding rocky coastline.  The rock here is principally pink granite, which presents some rosy hues in the early or late sunlight.

Freycinet Peninsula has been a national park for decades and the wildlife does not feel threatened by the presence of people, including the wading birds on the foreshore, which is different to our observations elsewhere on the Australian coastline.

A southerly breeze prompted a sail up the coastline to Seaton Cove, just north of Binalong Bay.  It is a small cove with a sandy bottom and rocky sides, ideal for the cray pot guys, but probably less attractive for us due to its tight confines.  The night was flat calm and so the confined area was not an issue.  During this time we were sailing in company with It’s A Privilege having left the others behind at Crocketts Bay.

Kangaroo Bay, Clarke Island

An early start was required for the passage across Banks Strait, our third for this trip around Tasmania, and it was an easy crossing with the tide and wind in the same direction, and behind us.  Some of the whirlpools and overfalls were impressive, and once again a reminder of how uncomfortable a crossing could be here during a gale.  We were heading into the Furneaux Group, which is a group of islands clustered around Flinders Island.  Most of the islands are low, but two, Lady Barron and Flinders have rugged mountains, the highest being the Strzelecki Peaks in the SW corner of Flinders Island.  After crossing Banks Strait we anchored in Kangaroo Bay on Clarke Island, one of the southernmost of the group.  It has a narrow channel into the anchorage, and we found the Navionics chart on the iPad the most useful navigation aid here.  The depths were hopelessly wrong, but the position of the deepest contours appeared to be accurate – the antifoul on the keel bottom remained intact!

Robina and I went ashore for a walk, and were surprised by the thick, almost impenetrable scrub, that forced us to confine our walk to the beach.  It was a pleasant change to have a beach to ourselves, with this island being uninhabited, and the crew on It’s A Privilege remaining on board.  It appears that a bushfire burnt most of the island several years ago and the plant ecosystems are about halfway towards establishing a mature scrub.  The backdrop is the barren peaks on Lady Barron Island, which are very similar as those around the Bathurst Channel, and as hauntingly beautiful.

Trousers Point, Flinders Island.

A continuing southerly breeze prompted us to sail north to Trousers Point on the SW corner of Flinders Island where we anchored at the base of Mt Strzelecki which has a height of 781m, 10m higher than Mt Rugby at the Bathurst Channel.  There is a walking trail to the top from Trousers Point but we were not tempted – climbing Mt Rugby was our one peak for this summer.  We had this anchorage to ourselves and it was very calm.  Ashore there are isolated farm houses, but they appear to be mainly residences with plenty of land and no evidence of recent agricultural activity.  The only footprints in the sand belonged to the birds, wallabies, occasional wombats, and us.

Deal Island

Good weather and home were beckoning, prompting us to leave the next day for a long leg to Deal Island, one of our favourite anchorages on the eastern side of Bass Strait, and this time was not a disappointment either.  By this time the Geelong group had caught up with us, making the favoured northern side of East Cove rather crowded.  We went ashore in the late afternoon and had tea and scones with the volunteer caretakers before sharing a barbeque ashore with the crews from It’s A Privilege and Moontide.  This is a wood fired barbeque and we had a final pleasant evening finishing well after dark now that daylight saving time finished the previous weekend.

Despite forecasts of gentle northerly breezes followed by an afternoon sea breeze, we motored the entire distance of 51nm across to Refuge Cove, which we found to be a bit of a slog.    We had now returned to Victorian waters, and Refuge Cove was its usual enchanting self in the afternoon light.  There were also other boats like ourselves, trying to download weather models using patchy internet access to determine our next moves.  The models indicated another day of motor-sailing for us as we headed across to Phillip Island, or if we did not take this opportunity then it would be a week in Refuge Cove, seeking refuge from the very strong west and south winds forecast as part of an intense cold front system approaching from the west.  It had one of the very unpredictable secondary low pressure cells embedded in it and hence being at sea amongst it all was best avoided.  It was a system similar to this, albeit more intense, that wreaked havoc amongst the Sydney-Hobart fleet 10 years ago.

Wilsons Promontory.

The breezes died as we left behind the islands around Wilsons Promontory and the engine hours had another boost when we motored the 73nm across a mirror smooth Bass Strait in what was another tedious mile-killing flog.  Even the swell required millimetres to measure it.

 

 

Mirror calm seas entering Cleeland Bight.

We opted to anchor in behind Phillip Island at Cleeland Bight so that we could have sundowners and dinner while at anchor and at a respectable hour; respectable being defined as ‘before sunset’.

 

After almost three days of motoring, we finally had a stiff breeze for the passage home to Pt Phillip Bay with a reach across the bottom of Phillip Island and Mornington Peninsula to Cape Schanck.  Here we had the usual ‘porridge’ as two swell streams met on rocky banks off the cape.  Normally we give Cape Schanck a wide clearance to avoid the cray pots, but we knew that around the cape we would be hard on the wind and did not want to give away any more northing than that required to avoid the rocks.  The offshore wind also picked up prompting me to further furl the genoa, but the furler jammed.  Fortunately we were not over-pressed and we continued with the 50% genoa in combination with the mainsail which we could still furl to a suitable size.  We motor-sailed hard on the wind for about an hour, but with a favourable wind shift, we were able to use sail only up to the Point Lonsdale, at the entrance to Pt Phillip Bay – our home waters.  Eventually we were able to unroll the genoa completely and dropped in on the foredeck until I could sort out the furler in Queenscliff.

Following It’s a Privilege and Allana into Pt Phillip Bay.

We slowed up so that our arrival at the Rip coincided with slack water at 4.30pm, and followed Allana into the Rip using the eastern approaches.  Once again our passage across the Rip was uneventful.  Our favourite spot of Queenscliff was only a short distance away and we were securely tied at the wharf of the Queenscliff Cruising Yacht Club (QCYC) at 5.20pm.  We departed from here in the early hours of 29 December 2016, more than three months previously, bringing our journeys around Tasmania to a close.  The passage north to our home port of RBYC being just five hours away, we used our time in Queenscliff for some welcome R&R while sitting out the storms.

The QCYC wharf is exposed to the west and in preparation for the westerly winds we tied all fenders and a fender board to the toe rail.  Tom and Alison joined us for a welcome home champagne, Tasmanian of course, and we started the relaxation process.   Next day was the last of the fine weather and we took the opportunity to clean the interior of Chakana and wash and dry the bedding, towels and our clothes.  This is all very convenient at QCYC.  The westerly storms arrived on Saturday afternoon continuing through to Sunday, and our preparations were effective.  The fire place in the club house proved to be popular on Sunday afternoon, and the crew of Dory, appreciated the warmth when they arrived late on Sunday evening.

Early hours of Monday morning saw the presaged southerly gales arrive, and they were vicious with +35kt winds, but we were snugly tied up and lay in bed listening to the wind whistling in the rigging.

West Channel Pile, homeward bound.

By Tuesday the winds had abated, as forecast, and by 9.30am we had departed Queenscliff for the final 30miles to our marina pen at RBYC.  Initially the wind was light and we had to motor for several miles, thinking that this was so typical of the entire trip, but the breeze filled in and we ran with the genoa only up to Brighton, arriving at 2.30pm.  We were welcomed by Peter and Helen (Nahani) who we met in Hobart, Pam and Will Merritt with whom Robina sails with regularly on Andalucia, and Sue Drummond from Birubi, who had arrived just before the storms from their own summer of Tasmanian cruising.

It was a pleasant afternoon in the cockpit sipping more Tasmanian champagne, swapping stories of Tasmanian cruising, and savouring the satisfaction of completing another extended cruise in our sturdy and much loved Chakana.  This summer we saw 2,200 miles disappear in the wake bringing our total to almost 10,000 miles in extended cruising.  C’est la vie!

 

VDL Rally – Stage 6.  We finish the VDL Circumnavigation


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 29, Wednesday 15 March.  Recherche Bay, D’Entrecasteaux Channel

This area of Tasmania was originally explored and charted initially by the Frenchmen, Baudin and d’Entrecasteaux and hence some of the landmarks have French names, but of course with anglicised pronunciations.  Recherche is ‘Research’ and D’Entrecasteaux is just too much of a tongue twister, and is known universally here as ‘The Channel’, whether talking to landlubbers or seafarers.

The Pigsties, Recherche Bay.

We were anchored in ‘The Pigsties’ at the northern end of Recherche Bay along with several other VDL boats, while others anchored at the Coalbins in the centre of the bay.  The origin of Coalbins is pretty obvious, because this is an area where there was a coal mine about 100 years ago and the coal was shipped from this area, but the origin of Pigsties is less obvious.

 

Coal Bins, Recherche Bay

We had a quiet day, moving Chakana to the Coalbins for a few hours while we explored the southern end of the bay, where there is a ranger station and a few shacks.  This is the start of one of the two 7-day walking tracks to Port Davey, this track following the southern coastline.

 

 

It was the site of a large whaling station and there is a life size sculpture of a baby Southern White whale.  Apparently one of the techniques to attract and keep whales in the bay was to kill the baby whales and so the mother would then hang around looking for the baby and she would be killed also.  And they wondered why the population diminished quickly….

Once again we were treated to a vista of serried rows of mountains in the afternoon light, a vista that we never tire of as we travel around the Tasmanian coastline.

After talking with a local lady who had collected a bucketful of fresh mussels we returned to the Pigsties because there was insufficient room to anchor in the lee of the headland adjacent to the Coalbins, ready for the next round of sundowners followed by a curry hosted on Chakana and shared with the Aquacadabrans.

Day 30, Thursday 16 March.  Deep Hole, Southport and Great Taylors Bay, D’Entrecasteaux Channel

One of the enchantments of The Channel is the numerous bays in which to anchor and explore, and the VDL organizers also uses it to accumulate the boats in the fleet so that we all arrive in Hobart at the appointed time for the final dinner.  The presence of the bays encourages you to day hop between anchorages and this is exactly what we did, particularly after arriving ‘early’ from Pt Davey, early being earlier than the suggested schedule at the start of the rally.

Deep hole, Southport.

Ida Bay Railway

First stop was a short hop around to Southport, which is a small village, in a large bay with a river behind it.  In a former life there was a small limestone quarry inland that had a narrow gauge railway bringing the limestone to the bay for transfer to ships, presumably by barges.   The railway is now a tourist rail with a coffee shop at the end, which is the attraction for the yachties that have been deprived of this luxury.  Most of the passengers board at the other end and have a ride down to the bay before returning to their cars.  We walked ashore amongst the regrown eucalypt forest and were rewarded with numerous birds and birdsong, something we had not had much of since leaving the Tamar River.

The wind sprung up in the afternoon with a pleasant 15kt westerly, and after complaining about motoring for days we could only take advantage of it and move to Jetty Bay at the southern end of Great Taylor Bay on Bruny Island.  We had a fantastic 2 hours of QUIET sailing at 7kts with just the genoa powering Chakana along – bliss!!

A birthday party for Alison of Rosebud was in full swing on one of the motor boats complete with the music of Bob Marley but even with the frequent laughter coming across the water we did not detect any olfactory signals that other traditions associated with the late Bob M were in use.

Day 31, Friday 17 March.  Cape Bruny Lighthouse and Mickeys Bay, D’Entrecasteaux Channel

Cape Bruny Lighthouse

A sunny morning beckoned us ashore to walk several kilometres to the former Cape Bruny lighthouse.  This is a magnificent old structure built by convicts using sandstone extracted from a quarry nearby.  In a matter of months they had quarried the stone, transported it up the hill to the local peak and built the lighthouse.  It was amazing productivity.  Originally whale oil was used for the light, followed by a pressure kerosene lamp, before finally being electrified.  A ring of Fresnel lenses that rotated around the light provided the flashes that provided the characteristic flashes all driven by a clockwork mechanism whose weight had to be wound upwards every 30 minutes using a winch.  Clear skies gave us stunning views from the top of the lighthouse over The Channel and out to Pedra Branca, a white rock 43km out to sea that hosts a bird rookery, seal colony and several shipwrecks.

 

 

 

 

 

BBQ lunch at Mickeys Bay.

Prior to lunch we motored several miles across Great Taylor Bay to the small indent known as Mickeys Bay where we joined the crews of about six VDL boats for a long barbeque lunch.  This was on private land and not National Park, allowing us to have a genuine barbeque using wood as fuel.  It was warm and sunny, and a very pleasant afternoon ensued.  This part of the VDL cruise was becoming very social!  Sundowners were not needed in the evening, and dinner on board Chakana was light.

Mickeys Bay

Day 32, Saturday 18 March.  An ‘At Home’ in Dover, D’Entrecasteaux Channel

Dover

Dover was a short distance across The Channel from Mickeys Bay and is the home port of Jeremy and Penny from Rosinante, our radio communications boat for the cruise,who had coordinated an At Home at the local Port Esperance Sailing Club (PESC).  This turned out to be a barbeque and salads prepared by the local members, for which we paid the princely sum of $20 or $25 if you wanted to include one of their delicious home cooked desserts, which of course most of us did.  They organised a local family to conduct a jam session to which some others joined in, and the VDL crews, characterised principally by grey hair and spreading girths, danced most of the night away to rock music that was mostly very familiar to our generation.  We were blessed, once again, with a warm still night which encouraged people to stay until stumps were pulled.

The committee, including the Commodore, were of an age more likely to be seen at a primary school P & C night, which means that there may be hope for the future of sailing, at least in this part of the world.

Day 33, Sunday 18 March.  Dinner at Port Cygnet, D’Entrecasteaux Channel

We motor sailed 9.5miles, initially in The Channel and then in the Huon River, to reach Port Cygnet, which is at the southern end of the rather charming small town of Cygnet.  There is large fleet of moored boats outside of the sailing club, and as we wriggled in to anchor at a place not too distant from the sailing club, we realised we were about to drop anchor on the starting line just before the local racing fleet was about to start jockeying for position five minutes from the start.  We quickly moved away from the line, partly as courtesy, and partly as self-preservation so that Chakana would not have a boat wedged in amongst the guardrails.

We had been to Cygnet before during January, and again we enjoyed the walk into town and along the main street.  A bit sleepier this time with fewer tourists passing through.

Another warm evening promised another long night ashore as the Port Cygnet Sailing Club hosted a barbeque dinner followed by a choice of four desserts, or any combination thereof.  The final stages of the VDL are not for the faint hearted or those trying to prevent further spreading of their girth.  David Meldrum (Cruise Commodore) was an entertaining MC once again.

The VDL cruise is a significant fund raiser for the sailing clubs in Tasmania, and we were pleased to have the opportunity to enjoy their hospitality and contribute to their sailing programs.  I have noticed that the Tasmanian sailing clubs seem to the ability to build uncomplicated elegant buildings for their clubhouses that are in harmony with the built and natural environments around them.

Day 34, Monday 19 March.  Kettering and Quarantine Bay, D’Entrecasteaux Channel

Yes, we were still in The Channel and yes, the socialising continued!

With a forecast for some wind, and maybe some rain we set off from Cygnet and sailed out of the Huon River dodging several brave souls in open boats heading into Cygnet.  We motor-sailed into a stiff breeze while they were scooting before it in their gaff rigged boats.  The breeze died, as it always seems to on this trip and we motored north along The Channel turning left into Kettering to refuel Chakana.  A mere 425 litres later, we now had full tanks again, the first time we had refuelled since leaving Hobart.  Our log shows a total of 144 hours using the engine since leaving Hobart 34 days ago and hence an average fuel consumption rate of 3.0 l/h.

Quarantine Bay

After refuelling, it was a quick trip across to Quarantine Bay, where the VDL boats that had arrived earlier, and numbering more than half of the fleet, had lit a fire in the fire pit ashore, and the gas barbeques were being prepared for their final outing on the 2017 VDL Circumnavigation.

 

Former Quarantine Station.

 

We took a brief walk to the site of the former Quarantine Station, where again the Tasmanian government has installed insightful interpretation boards so that the visitors can gain a sense of the reasons, actions and people who both worked and spent time there.  One of the major reasons was its use to hold the soldiers returning from World War I for seven days to determine if they had been infected by the Spanish flu epidemic that sent millions across the world to an early grave.  The isolation of Tasmania spared it from much of the epidemic, but inevitably it occurred and the government was caught short with a lack of vaccine and other medicines – it appears that the governments in those days were no better prepared for inevitabilities than those of today.

BBQ at Quarantine Bay.

As we returned we gathered our share of fallen trees to contribute to the fire pit and shared sundowners with the other crews before cooking yet another barbeque that was accompanied by yet more vino tinto.

 

 

 

Echidna at Quarantine Station.

 

 

 

Day 35, Tuesday 20 March.  Out of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel!

We soon left The Channel behind in the morning as we motored, yet again in flat calm waters, northwards to the Derwent River and Hobart.  The official proceedings were not scheduled to commence until Thursday, but most boats arrived on Tuesday, including ourselves.  Our circumnavigation of Tasmania was complete and a strong sense of satisfaction seeped through us as we reflected on our achievements, albeit in what must have been the most benign weather conditions ever seen on a VDL Circumnavigation Rally.  Chakana had performed well, with only very minor maintenance issues having to be fixed along the way, which certainly eases the stress on her crew, and adds to the satisfaction as we reflect on our journey.

We were allocated the same berth as before, B10, which was conveniently close to the club house and its facilities.  To dodge the scrum for the single washing machine at the clubhouse we took our four loads to the local laundrette and completed that inevitable chore.

The evening saw the Brighton contingent of It’s a Privilege, Aquacadabra and Chakana sitting at a long table at Shippies (the Shipwright Arms Hotel) with Birubi, who had been cruising the east coast of Tasmania, with many stories being recounted from our circumnavigation ventures.  It was a happy group of people that walked down the hill that night.  Normally I would revel in being tied up in a marina and therefore not having to worry about anchors dragging in the night, but this had only been a concern at two anchorages for the entire trip due to the calm conditions on almost every night.  It was to be just another night.

Day 36, Wednesday 21 March.  RYCT Marina, Hobart

We had a busy day cleaning Chakana outside and in.  The most time consuming job was emptying the anchor chain locker and laying out the chain on the walkway at the marina so that I could remove the twists in the final forty metres of chain. We carry 90 metres in total and, even though we have a swivel at the anchor, the twists gradually accumulate with the frequent lowering and raising of the anchor.

One of the Queensland contingent of boats had purchased a second hand Magna – dubbed as a SA BMW – when they arrived in Hobart before Christmas.  Wednesday night at RYCT is their raffle night and the car was donated as first prize in a raffle that was an addition to the normal meat tray and wine raffle.  Although numerous tickets were purchased, none of the VDL cruisers wanted to win it, and we didn’t.  One of the locals won it and promptly donated it to the junior sailors to sell on Gumtree, a fate that would surely have occurred if one of the cruisers had won it.

I won both a bottle of Shiraz and a lump of corned silverside in the normal raffle.  The wine promptly disappeared over dinner in the clubhouse and the silverside was a welcome addition to the victuals on Chakana.

Day 37, Thursday 22 March.  Robina is Numera Una

This is the final day of the VDL Circumnavigation Rally and the only activity was the final dinner at the RYCT clubhouse.  Almost all crews were present, and it was an outstanding evening with plenty of stories to tell.  David Meldrum, our Cruise Commodore, again was an entertaining MC and maintained a seemingly constant banter of jokes and commentary before the meal and between courses.  Three major awards are presented:

  • Boat of the Fleet – as voted by the skippers. This was won by Paul and Lynnie Pryor of Rumba who were popular personalities at the onshore activities.  Paul also had an outstanding collection of tools and other bits and pieces along with the skills to use them.  He helped with repairs on several boats whose owners were very appreciative.
  • Most Entertaining Log Book. This was won by Hugh and Tina of Inya Dreams who in addition to adding the normal information – course, time, distance etc included many photographs.  Tina is a keen photographer with a sharp eye for composition.
  • Most Authentic Log Book. This was one by….. us!  Or more precisely by Robina who diligently filled in the details of each day including weather forecasts, relevant tidal data and my passage plans for the longer legs between ports.  We keep a log book as part of our normal sailing routine, but this time Robina had to transfer the information and add in the extra bits.  Winning it was a highlight for us, and the plaque with medallion will occupy a prominent position on the forward bulkhead of Chakana’s saloon cabin.

 

Robina and Brenton with The Admiral Sir Guy Wyatt plaque.

 

 

Reflections

Firstly the numbers.  Over the 37 days we:

  • Logged 692 nautical miles (1,282km)
  • Hours underway – 169
  • Engine hours (mostly steaming) – 147

As you can see from the above there was not much time underway without a motor running even when time is allowed for having the motor running while anchoring and other sundry manoeuvres.

The overriding memory was the exceptionally benign weather we were blessed with for almost the entire circumnavigation.  Sure, the rally occurs in the two months that are known to have the most favourable weather, which for Tasmania, means the time with the least number of cold fronts passing over the state, but even the Tasmanians were surprised at the length and pleasantness of their ‘Indian summer’.

As expected, the camaraderie amongst the crews was another highlight, which only deepened with the shared experiences, the radio scheds and time spent socialising in cockpits or on various beaches as the rally progressed.

Personal highlights for us were the Gordon River and Pt Davey / Bathurst Harbour including the climb to the summit of Mt Rugby with its stunning vistas below us on a day of almost limitless visibility.

The schedule was not overly ambitious, but there appeared to be ever-present pressure to keep moving and participating in the opportunities for seeing more of Tasmania.  Producing this blog contributed to the pressure, but we see it as an important record for ourselves from which others can derive vicarious pleasure if they wish.

The RBYC contingent at Presentation Dinner. Susie and Peter, It’s a Privilege, Robina, Chakana, Rob and Tony, Aquacadabra, Brenton, Chakana.

VDL Rally – Stage 6.  SW Tasmania including Port Davey

As mentioned in our previous blog – Pt Davey is described as the ultima thule – and we were looking forward to it with much anticipation.  We first heard about its wonders from a presentation at our Cruising Group at RBYC following Lou and Marnie Irving’s trip here at a previous VDL rally.  We knew immediately that Pt Davey was on our bucket list, and now we have been there.

Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour

Day 23, Thursday 9 March.  Pilots Bay (Hells Gates) to Bond Bay, Port Davey

This is a 90 mile leg and so at least part of it has to be at night unless you stop in one of the bays on the way down the coast.  The alarm sounded at 2.15am and we were underway by 2.25am to go around Cape Sorell and head SSE.  A light N wind was forecast for the morning, which we took advantage of to maintain a speed of 6kt while reducing the engine speed, and hence noise levels.  The seas were flat and the off watch person could rest comfortably on the double berth forward.

The breeze died at midday and we motored across an oily mirror smooth Southern Ocean that had only the gentlest of undulations as the SW swell moved across the ocean.  This continued until the afternoon sea breeze arrived from the SE, the direction we were heading in – of course, but it was less than 5kts.

Bond Bay, Port Davey

Again, the passage plan worked well, and we had the anchor securely set in Bond Bay inside the entrance to Port Davey by 5.30pm ready for sundowners on Aquacadabra which had arrived about 30 minutes before.  Ann and Jonathan from Sofia joined us as well, who are participating in the VDL circumnavigation as part of their much longer circumnavigation – of the world.  Sundowners included sashimi from the tuna that Rosebud had caught on the way south that day.  You cannot have sashimi much fresher, or tastier, than that!

Day 24, Friday 10 March.  Davey River

The early bird catches the worm, and this time it was the views and reflections of the Davey River before the wind came up and destroyed the mirror smooth surface of the waters made dark with the tannins that flow in from the button grass.  We were the first of a long flotilla of dinghies up the river and the new dinghy proved its mettle here.  Prior to leaving Melbourne we bought a Swift dinghy the same length as our previous Walker Bay dinghy, but this one has a V-hull and can take a 10hp motor and the combination enables us to plane and hence travel much quicker, and also drier, on long dinghy trips, and going upstream in the Davey River was one of those that we knew we would do while circumnavigating Tasmania.  One thing I didn’t allow for sufficiently was the thirst of the larger motor at higher boat speeds – we had sufficient outboard fuel on board, but only just.

Reflections on Davey River

Reflections on Davey River

First Gorge

Flotilla at first rapids.

We navigated our way about five miles upriver and then through two gorges, but the rapids at the end of the second gorge were too strong for us to paddle through, had too many obstructions for the prop, and were too deep for us to walk through.  On the return trip we met the remainder of the flotilla at the first set of rapids.  They were well armed with eskies and camp chairs to set up on the bank.

While we were up the river, a southerly breeze of 10-15kts had sprung up causing a nasty chop on the bay for our trip back to the Chakana.  This trip would have been hazardous in the Walker Bay dinghy, but in the Swift we could zoom across the top and have some spray come over, but it was safe, much quicker and we did not need waterproofs – or a bailing bucket.

It was a vastly different landscape here 100+ years ago when the first white settlers arrived to harvest the timber and also process whales caught nearby.  It is hard to imagine that there were sufficient tall trees to sustain a boatbuilding industry.  The eucalypts and melaleucas that dominate the existing trees are barely sufficiently large enough to cut for firewood.  I guess it will be several generations of people before a mature forest re-appears.  Even this may never re-appear because there are no indigenous people living here now to conduct the pattern burning which allowed the large mature trees to continue growing and not disappear in a major bushfire.

BBQ at Bond Beach

Rob, Aquacadabra, flying his drone at the BBQ.

In the late afternoon the crews from the 11 boats in Bond Bay went ashore for a barbeque.  This was our alternative to the scheduled barbeque for the VDL participants back in Strahan.  To date, only one of the three scheduled barbeques, and this was way back at Bryans Corner on Day 3, has had more than 50% participation.

 

Day 25, Saturday 11 March.  Into the Bathurst Channel

Bathurst Channel with Mt Rugby.

The Bathurst Channel is a 10 mile long glacial valley that was submerged at the end of the last ice age and connects Port Davey with the large shallow body of water known as Bathurst Harbour.  The sides of the valley are steep and largely barren quartzite mountains, the highest of which is Mt Rugby at 771m.  The mountain slopes are green, as a result of the high rainfall, with large areas of grey, particularly at the peaks, where there is insufficient soil for any plants.  The greenery is provided by button grass, and some short trees.  In addition to the lack of soil there is the almost constant blasting with the SW winds/gales/storms which afflict this coast for much of the year.

Dinghy along Melaleuca Inlet.

We motored eastwards along the channel in calm conditions to anchor in Clayton’s Corner to join about 10 other boats in a reasonably confined space.  Then it was down with the dinghy and in company with the crews from Pacific Haven and Shamila-Jay, we motored up river to a group of dwellings known as Melaleuca which has the landing strip for Port Davey and some camping facilities.  This is the most remote corner of Tasmania and the only way in is by walking for seven days, fly in by light plane or come on a boat capable of tackling the southern ocean.  Walking is popular in summer with an average of 10 people per day.

Needwonnee boardwalk

The walk around the boardwalk amongst the button grass, which is the dominant plant form in this environment, and the small stands of melaleuca trees, was interesting.  The boardwalk also included some interpretation of the way of life here for the indigenous people.  Parks Tasmania has constructed a boardwalk of more than a kilometre so that the button grass is not trampled and turned to a boggy mush.

 

 

 

Needwonnee Interpretive boardwalk.

 

Melaleuca Lagoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melaleuca was also the location of small scale tin mining operations for several decades, but these have all ceased and the entire SW of Tasmania is now a national park.

The day concluded with a lengthy ‘planning meeting’ on Pacific Haven in preparation for the assault to the summit of Mt Rugby in the morning after moving to the anchorage at Frogs Hollow which is close to the start of the track to the summit of Mt Rugby.

Day 26, Sunday 12 March.  Clytie Cove

Along the Bathurst Channel which is typically 25m deep there are numerous side valleys that are now bays that provided excellent anchorages with protection from most wind directions, shallow depths (3 – 7m) and bottoms of mud that provide good holding for the anchors.  Early on Sunday morning we moved around to Clytie Cove due to strong easterlies forecast.

The Sunday morning greeted us with drizzly rain that persisted for several hours thus postponing the ascent of Mt Rugby.  A lay day was declared, books were read and through a series of ‘private’ radio calls that we all eavesdropped on, drinks were organised ashore at 4pm for the crews of the six boats in the bay.  Similar events were organised in other bays also.

After solving various world problems and discussing the merits or otherwise of various rigs, dinghies, anchors etc on the ideal cruising boat we all turned in early for the early ascent of Mt Rugby.

 

Day 27, Monday 13 March.  Mt Rugby and a VDL Barbeque in Bramble Cove

We awoke to find low cloud covering the mountains along the entire Bathurst Channel, but we were optimistic that it would lift before we reached the summit several hours later.  By 8:45am we had replaced our sea boots required for the wet landing ashore with walking boots and the ascent commenced.  A well-defined path has been created over the years by walkers and National Parks, although amongst the upper levels of the mountain the path is less clear, particularly on the descent.  In the lower half, the path is in the topsoil layer that sits on the quartzite underneath.  This has turned to mud in many sections, and the high freeboard of our walking boots was appreciated.  Further up, we were scrambling over quartzite boulders, and the security from the grip on the soles was reassuring.

We started at sea level, and so we had to climb the full 771m, (2,530ft in the old measure), which is 100m higher than Mt Lofty for the South Australians amongst the readers, and almost the same height as some of the deepest open cut mines in Chile, for the Chilean readers.

It was a tough climb, with only a few sections where it was flat or with a gentle gradient.  For the first two-thirds most of the trail is in thick scrub forcing you to bend over and obscuring many of the foot holds.  However, the scrub is very strong, including the button grass, and provides good hand holds for much of the way.  This was particularly useful when descending when we could use the scrub to control our momentum when taking some of the larger steps required.

At the half-way mark, the clouds covering the Bathurst Channel lifted to reveal the first glimpses of the panoramas to be enjoyed as we gained more altitude.  Our optimism was well founded.

Our group of six took 3.5 hours for the ascent, which we thought was a good effort, and were rewarded with fabulous views from the summit in all directions.  The wind had remained calm and hence we had reflections of the mountains and clouds in the lakes, adding to the spectacle.  To the east was the panoramic view of Bathurst Harbour and narrow channel to Melaleuca, the Bathurst Channel was immediately in front of us, and Port Davey and Davey River could be seen in the west.

Vista out through Bathurst Channel to Port Davey and Southern Ocean.

Bathurst Harbour from the summit.

The descent took only 2.5 hours, and it was a weary group that made its way back to the three yachts.  However, the day did not end with a quiet contemplation of our achievements.  The third and final group barbeque was organised in Bramble Cove, and this time, almost the entire fleet was to be present.  The quick trip up the Bathurst Channel enabled the engine to generate sufficient hot water for Robina and I to have a much needed warm shower before we anchored in Bramble Cove and joined the remainder of the crews on the beach.  Most of the barbeques were completed by the time we arrived, and we had our sausages in ship baked bread in quick time.  By sunset were back on board and crashed in our bunks after agreeing that the next day was to be a gentle recovery day.  But then the plan changed…..

 

Day 28, Tuesday 14 March.  Pt Davey to Recherche Bay

Across the southern coast of Tasmania.

One of the never-ending topics when sailors gather is discussions on the weather forecast / predictions and the VDL barbeque in the previous evening was no different.  Normally these discussions are reasonably well informed because we all have access to the same weather models.  This time it was different, because there was only an official weather forecast for SW Tasmania that covered three days, plus a verbal description of the general synoptic situation, as the BOM quaintly calls it.  There were also a fair bit of Chinese whispers, plus interpretations, thrown in for good measure.  In summary, the general consensus was:

Tuesday: N – NE 10-15kts going variable (Met speak for calm) in the afternoon.

Wednesday: N – NW 15-20kts all day

Thursday: SW change expected, strong enough to blow off bits of female anatomy if they were exposed, but of short duration (hours not days)

Friday: Good sailing breezes but with leftover seas from the change.  This was a bit speculative but probably valid.

The net result of various discussions on various boats was that Tuesday would be a good day to go around the southern end of Tasmania, and about a third of the VDL fleet did this, including us even though we had only done two of the six activities we had identified as desirable before arriving.  Port Davey may see us again one day.

One of the things you learn about weather and weather forecasts in Tasmania is that there is a much higher level of uncertainty attached to them compared with those on mainland Australia, and hence on Tuesday morning we made the decision to leave Pt Davey for the 62nm journey around the south of Tasmania to Recherche Bay.

The N winds persisted for a short while, and then it is was on with the motor for the entire journey.  We left Pt Davey with only a 1m SW swell that did not reduce the comfort on board in any way.

South West Cape

Once we were around South West Cape we had to contend with a steeper easterly swell that gradually increased in intensity during the day.  The SW swell also increased as we progressed across the southern coast of Tasmania, but the period between the 2-3m swells was more than 10 seconds and hence did not affect us.  However, the swells had considerable energy, and caused some spectacular wave action when the swells hit the sheer dolerite cliffs that dominate the shore for most of southern Tasmania.

South East Cape

Going around South East Cape, the southernmost point of Australia (unless you want to be pedantic and include Macquarie Island) we motor sailed within a mile or so through very confused seas (porridge as the local sailors call it) caused by the two swells being affected by a large tidal eddy at the cape and also the reflected waves from the swells crashing into the cliffs.  Essentially the seas away from the cape were calm, and so it would be awesome, in a negative sense, if there were large wind generated waves superimposed on all this action.

Recherche Bay is only 11nm from South East Cape and we were tucked up there at anchor by 7pm.

This is at the entrance to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, which is mostly protected waters and so our days of the rigours of sailing in the open ocean are completed for this circumnavigation of Tasmania.  On only three days have we seen winds in excess of 20kts, and one of those was for a brief period only.  We have not seen much more than 10knots of wind for almost the entire trip around the Apple Isle.  However, we are not complaining, on the contrary, we are offering many thanks to Huey for our good fortune with the weather to date.  Thanks pal……

For the lazy amongst our readers ultima thule is defined as:

Noun

  1. The highest degree attainable
  2. The farthest point, the limit of any journey
  3. The point believed by the ancients to farthest north.

 

VDL Rally – Stage 4.  Strahan, Macquarie Harbour and Beyond

As you can see on the map, Macquarie Harbour is a huge body of water inside of the narrow entrance at Hells Gates that contains 6.4 Sydharbs (Sydney Harbours), and is surrounded by mostly rugged wilderness.  The hills are not particularly steep, but there is row after row of them, and all covered in dense temperate rainforest.

Strahan is the only town on Macquarie Harbour, and was developed to service the famous Mt Lyell copper mine at Queenstown, which is only about 40km inland.  Strahan was the port through which all materials came in, and the copper was shipped out.  All people working at the mine and their families also arrived and left via Macquarie Harbour and Hells Gates.

Mining has occurred at Mt Lyell since the 1890s until very recently, but like all mining operations of this longevity it has seen plenty of boom and bust times.  Strahan even more so, because eventually road access was provided to Queenstown and Burnie became the main port.  Strahan went into sharp decline until the grey nomads discovered it after the anti-dam protesters of the mid-1980s put it on the radar again.  It is now a thriving tourist town with some sophisticated, and expensive, tours available.

The ore grades at Mt Lyell were fabulous, one of the few copper ore deposits in the world rich enough to be direct smelted, but until the rail line was constructed between Queenstown and Strahan mining could not occur.  The construction of the rail line, although only about 40km long, was a monumental civil engineering feat in appalling weather conditions, especially in winter when most of the 3,500mm of rain occurs. Apologies for the blurb on mining, but some habits die hard for me…..

Before the discovery of the copper deposits, harvesting Huon Pine was a major industry along with other such as Celery Top Pine, Myrtle and Blackheart Sassafras.  The first two were highly valued for ship building, and the others for furniture.  The Huon Pine in particular grows very slowly and within a few decades most of the tall ones had been felled.

Fortunately for us, our stay in Macquarie Harbour coincided with a huge high pressure cell that decided to remain stationary over much of southern Australia and we were blessed with mostly clear skies and almost no wind for more than a week.  Perfect for exploring this part of the world.

Day 16, Thursday 2 March.  Strahan

Hogarth Falls, Strahan

Apart from a quick walk to Hogarth Falls to gain a first taste of the rainforest environment not a lot of action occurred this day.  In the afternoon we had re-run of the pass through the timber mill and exhibits of the local timber products available for purchase.

In the evening we attended a very informative session with the owner of Stormbreaker who has been running charters in Macquarie Harbour and the Gordon River for years.  He has produced two pilotage charts, one for Macquarie Harbour and the other for the Gordon River.  They were a bargain at only $20 each.

Day 17, Friday 3 March.  King River

Dinghy capers up the King River.

Ignorance is bliss and this day we decided to take dinghies up the King River which has its delta just south of Strahan.  Until probably forty years ago the tailings and much of the mine waste from Mt Lyell was discharged into the Queen River, which is a major tributary of the King River, which in turn flows into Macquarie Harbour.  A very large delta of tailings has formed at mouth of the King River and being interested in mining history and its effects on the environment I was keen to have a look.

The Aquacadabrans and Richie from It’s a Privilege joined us and we towed the three dinghies and anchored Chakana just north of the delta.  After paddling them over the bar at the seaward end of the delta we then went upstream and found one of the first challenges in all west coast rivers, but even more so in the King River, the water is quite opaque.  Unless an obstacle causes a ripple on the surface, there is no indication of rocks, trees and in the case of the King River, sundry industrial junk before your prop on the outboard hits them.  Needless to say progress was slow.  However, the stream was full and we went several miles upstream, finding new Huon Pines at the water’s edge, which was very pleasing to see.

Huon Pine by waters edge.

Little did we realise, that the water levels in the King River on this day were not typical, and thus we had plenty of water for exploring it.  Next day the size, frequency and sharp edges of some of the submerged hazards were to be revealed.

 

 

Day 18, Saturday 4 March.  Strahan to Queenstown by Rail

The Strahan to Queenstown railway was restored about 20 years ago after lying in disrepair for about 20 years and judging by the levels of patronage and prices, is now a thriving business.  Now of course it is only used for tourists, but probably up until the Second World War it was the only link between these two centres.

Train from Strahan to Queenstown

We bought ‘Wilderness’ class tickets for $225 each (ouch) and the two carriages were full.  In addition to having a ticket both ways, we had a tasty four course meal as well served by our very knowledgeable hostess, Kathleen.  The day started at 8.30am with a glass of Tasmanian champagne served as we departed Strahan and started the gentle climb along the banks of the King River.  Today, the water level was about a metre lower, which was, as Kathleen informed us, due to the Hydro not releasing water from the King River dam near Queenstown.  The sight of the numerous rocks, logs and junk were a sober reminder of the perils for the outboard prop – of which we do not have a spare.

Train from Strahan to Queenstown.

There are regular stops for the locos to take on more water – it uses plenty when going uphill and for the passengers to have short walks.  At each stop the hostesses from the carriages would set up honey tasting sessions or some other vice to entice you to part with money – successfully I might add.  I have always been a fan of bluegum honey, but the leatherwood honey from the Tasmanian rainforests has an intense flavour all of its own. We bought the largest jar available.

King River Gorge.

Canapes of smoked Tasmanian salmon were first up followed by morning tea of scones with blackberry jam and cream.  At the Queenstown railway station we chose the Tasmanian salmon for a main course, and on the way down to Strahan there was a plate of Tasmanian cheeses followed by peppermint slices with coffee / tea and a glass of champagne to seal the day.  Needless to say, dinner on board that night was very light.

Apart from the rainforest, the highlights included panning for gold at one of the stops, looking at the gradual rehabilitation of the Queen River, and the spectacular gorge of the King River.  While the sulphide tailings were being dumped in the river, the Queen River was a dull lifeless grey, but in the forty years since dumping has ceased, the sulphides are gradually being oxidised turning the river a bright yellow, but still lifeless.  Ultimately this process of oxidation will be effective in eliminating the slow release of acidic water and heavy metals.  Further downstream in the King River the tailings are being covered naturally with sediments, and these wild rivers have plenty of sediments, which act to seal the old tailings and prevent oxygen from reaching the sulphides thus sealing them for perpetuity.  Various government agencies are monitoring the progress of the rehabilitation of both rivers.

Rack and Pinion Mechanism

There are two sections with steep slopes and the railway uses a rack and pinion system for assisting the normal driving wheels to haul itself and the carriages up the slopes.  Some of these slopes reach 1 in 12 which is quite steep, even for a car.

 

 

Day 19, Sunday 5 March.  Sarah Island and the Gordon River

Sarah Island

Sarah Island is located in the southern end of Macquarie Harbour and is a small island covered in rainforest, but once was completely cleared when it was a penal settlement, second only to Norfolk Island for the severity of the treatment of the convicts, well at least in the initial years, which commenced in about 1824.  It was only in use for 13 years before the convicts were transferred to the new prison facility at Pt Arthur.  However, in that time a huge amount of work was achieved which included clearing the island, constructing a 12ft high fence as a windbreak on the western side, constructing various buildings from bricks and mortar, both of which were made on the island, and finally the construction of many sailing vessels.  It was this last activity that is amazing, because ‘constructing a boat’ means cutting down the huge Huon Pine trees, sawing them into slabs typically 20m long and 1 metre wide, and then further sawing them into planks ready for actually building the boats.  All spars were made onsite from Celery Top Pine, along with all the various metal bits in the local foundry.

Heritage Landing

The entrance to the Gordon River is nearby and the logical next step was to make our way up to Heritage Landing about 5 miles from the mouth.  The Gordon is wide and has hills covered in trees dipping down to the water’s edge.  There is an amazing number of shades of green amongst the different trees in the rainforest.  Heritage Landing is as far as the commercial catamarans are allowed to go, from there on the Gordon is the preserve of the small boat owners and kayakers.

This initial section of the Gordon was a foretaste of the upper reaches and already it was intensely satisfying to be amongst it.

 

Day 20, Monday 6 March.  Gordon and Franklin Rivers

Google map view of the Gordon River.

The early start was delayed a little when I pulled up a large branch with the anchor chain that required me to lower the dinghy again so that I could separate the branch from the chain.  We used an anchor buoy at all times in the Gordon so that if the anchor was stuck under an old log, there was some chance of being able to pull it out backwards.  Anchoring in the middle of the stream is a good idea so that as the boat wanders around with the stream and wind it does not move to close to the trees on the shoreline.  Trees and mast rigging are not a good combination.

Reflections on Gordon River.

More stunning views were revealed as we moved up the river, particularly in the long section along a geological fault separating sandstone ridges on one side, and white limestone ridges on the other.  There were some steep marble cliffs amongst the limestone.

GPS Chartplotter was of no use – we were going over land!

The pilotage charts were invaluable enabling us to move upriver with confidence.  The water is the colour of strong tea as a result of the high levels of tannin in the water and visibility through the water is limited to about 200mm, and even less if it is in shade, which is most of it.

 

 

 

Sir John Falls

At Sir John Falls we moored alongside the jetty, and took the dinghy upstream.  The river is becoming much narrower now and hence the almost insignificant stream we had seen before was now becoming stronger, but still gentle.

 

 

 

Gordon meets the Franklin.

The first rapids on the Franklin River.

Within a few miles we reached the junction with the Franklin River and we took the dinghy to the first rapids of the Franklin.  In previous years the VDL crews have been able to progress up the second rapids, but the water was too shallow to allow us to do that this year.  It is an impressive river, even when water levels are down, and it must be particularly spectacular when it is a metre or more deeper and really roaring down.  Later in the day we met a party of four kayakers who had spent seven days coming down the Franklin.  They were all very experienced and needed to be.  There is no rescue service out here.

We were one of the few crews that took the dinghy upstream in the Gordon River from the junction with the Franklin.  Here the Gordon is navigable, but with care.  It is no longer placid, but becoming a wild river with an awesome amount of power in the water as it surges around the numerous rocks.  We had no maps and no others with us and hence did not go far, but it gave us a taste of the possibilities if we return.

Sundowners that evening were on Aquacadabra along with Guy Manthorpe and his crew on Tauremka (previously Pyewacket 11 for those who read Cruising Helmsman).

Day 21, Tuesday 7 March.  Down the Gordon River to Kelly Basin

Early morning reflections on the Gordon going downstream.

We were off early for the return trip down the Gordon River and were rewarded by the sighting of a large platypus along with more spectacular reflections in the mirror smooth black water.  By lunchtime were back in Macquarie Harbour and we moved across to Kelly Basin, another site of interesting industrial archaeology.

Remains of kilns at Eat Pillanger.

 

A smaller copper mine near Queenstown set up West Pillinger as its base and built another railway line up through the rainforest.  However, the mine was bought out by the Mt Lyell Mining Co and all the operations were moved to Strahan.  East Pillinger and the neighbouring West Pillinger survived for less than 20 years, but left behind some impressive brick kilns where 300,000 bricks were fired at a time, together with some old boilers, the remnants of several wharves and sundry junk.

Ruins of jetty at East Pillanger

 

 

Day 22, Wednesday 8 March.  Pilots Bay via Strahan

We traversed Macquarie Harbour again to return to Strahan shortly after lunch, but this was only a short stay to do a load of washing, pick up fresh fruit and vegies and restock the gin locker.  G & T is Robina’s favourite tipple for sundowners and I have been enjoying a G & T also in these slightly cooler climes causing the gin levels on board to become dangerously low.

Steaming out of Hells Gates.

By 5.30pm the anchor was back on board, and we steamed out through Hells Gates in calm seas to Pilots Bay, ready for a 2.30am departure for the trip south to the ultima thule for cruising in Tasmania – Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour.

 

 

 

Pilots Bay just outside of Hells Gates.

PS – Ultima thule is used in the Tasmanian Anchorage Guide – I presume it is Latin for ‘the pinnacle’ or ‘extraordinary destination’.  I am sure the Latin scholars amongst our readers will be able to enlighten us.

 

 

 

 

VDL Rally – Stage 3.  Tamar River to Strahan

After a slow start on this section of the rally, we completed it rather more quickly than expected; because Huey had other plans for us.  However, there are no complaints because we are now in Macquarie Harbour, which is one of the ‘must see’ highlights of this cruise around Tasmania.

Day 11, Saturday 25 February.  Tamar Yacht Club (TYC)

This was the big fundraising night at the Tamar Yacht Club which provided dinner and (many) drinks for the crews of the VDL boats.  David (Rally Commodore) was an entertaining host with some humorous ad lib comments and it was also a time when several of the boats said goodbye to their crews, and welcomed their new crews; a situation that added to the bonhomie of the night.

RBYC crews of Aquacadabra and Chakana at Tamar Yacht Club on crew changeover day.

 

This changeover included the Aquacadabrans and I (Brenton) went with the new crew into Launceston with the objective of buying an even bigger shackle to connect the anchor to the anchor chain while they re-provisioned Aquacadabra.  Amongst the adverts for whiz-bang diesel heaters for boats in the Tamar Marine catalogue I noticed they also had a portable cabin heater that used methylated spirits for fuel, which I thought may be useful for the cold nights anticipated. However, for a variety of reasons we did not reach them before closing time at 1pm, and by the time of writing it did not appear that we would need the heater anyway.  A walk around the marina at the TYC also convinced me that our current shackle is large enough, I just need to replace it more frequently at the princely sum of $3.45.

 

Day 12, Sunday 26 February.  Tamar Yacht Club

Most of the VDL boats left early to head towards Three Hummock Island in the Hunter Group on the NW corner of Tasmania but we, Chakana and Aquacadabra, declared a lay day and stayed behind in the marina.  Two or three also cruised up the Tamar River.  Others went to Stanley before moving onto Three Hummock Island, and others went into Devonport.  One also went to Wynyard.  The fleet was starting to be more individual in their itineraries, which is encouraged by the VDL organisers.

I took the opportunity of the lay day to complete some work (actual paid work!) and we also published the blog for Section 2 of the rally.  We know we have at least one reader of the blog who correctly informed us that kookaburras are not native to Tasmania as I had alluded to in our previous blog, but were introduced in about 1905.  Thankyou Lester!

Robina picked fresh blackberries nearby to the yacht club and made an apple and blackberry crumble for dessert for both boats.   I adore the intense flavour of fresh blackberries and so there were no complaints when we were still eating fresh blackberries two days later.  The dessert on board Chakana followed a typical Tasmanian pub meal in the adjacent Beauty Point Hotel, where ‘typical’ means rather large serves especially for the meat portion.

 

Day 13, Monday 27 February.  Tamar Yacht Club (TYC) to Port Sorell

Port Sorell is only 20nm from the TYC making it an easy day to sail across.  The passage plan dictated a start at 08:05 so that we could arrive at Point Sorell in the top third of the rising tide to go over the sand bar at the entrance to Port Sorell.  The Tasmania Anchorage Guide produced by the RYCT provides all this invaluable information and it is essential for our planning.  Once we picked up the second set of leads to go in we found plenty of water over the bar and Rob (Aquacadabra) picked one of unoccupied private moorings.  After several unsuccessful attempts to set the anchor in a spot where we could swing without running aground, we also picked up a private mooring.  The mooring lines had a substantial mussel farm growing on them and so I thought the likelihood of the owner arriving to claim his mooring was suitably low.

Panatana Rivulet, Pt Sorell

Rob’s wife Nona, who had passed away in August 2016, had many family holidays at Port Sorell as a youngster, and carried on the tradition with Rob and their daughter.  Rob gave us a guided tour on foot that included the Panatana Rivulet which dries out almost completely at low tide leaving a collection of old, mostly wooden, boats sitting in the mud.  One boat, which sits permanently above the high water level, has been being rebuilt for as long as Rob has been going there.  ‘Rebuilt’ means the complete replacement of all planks in the hull, deck and deckhouse.  We spoke with the current owner, only 10 years, while he was busy installing yet another hull plank and I was intrigued by the techniques used to spring the plank into the desired curve around the frames without using clamps.

Our plan was to sail from Port Sorell to Three Hummock Island on the NW extremity of Tasmania, probably via one of the other ports along the northern Tasmanian coast, and join the bulk of the VDL fleet to share a planned barbeque on the beach of Spiers Nook with the other VDL crews on Friday evening.  However, this is where Huey stepped in, and prompted the various meteorologists and their models to forecast the following:

  • Monday night – E all night going to NE
  • Tuesday – Vigorous (15-25kt) N all day going to more tranquil 10-15 NW in the evening and night
  • Wednesday – Change from the S followed by days of calm and then more light S breezes

The easterly breeze on Monday night indicated we needed to start moving west to Three Hummock Island, which would give us several days of relaxing in Spiers Nook, an anchorage we were familiar with from a previous cruise to this area.  However, the northerly wind was too tempting for the run south to Macquarie Harbour, and so the passage plan was quickly modified to continue on through Hunter Passage in the Fleurieau Group and then south to Hells Gates at the entrance of Macquarie Harbour.  This turned out to be a good decision.

The Passage Plan was a trifle complicated because we had to have sufficient depth of water to leave Pt Sorell, pass through Hunter Passage with a favourable tidal stream (very important), and not arrive at Hells Gates before dawn – also very important.

With our newly acquired local knowledge about the actual depths over the bar at Port Sorell we could leave much earlier than if we waited for the top third of the tide, and the actual departure time was 8pm after the evening meal on Chakana and Aquacadabra.  This would enable us to spend more time in the northerly winds after passing through Hunter Passage with the first part of the west going tidal stream instead of the final part.

Ultimately the plan had us leaving Port Sorell at 8pm Monday and sailing continuously for around 36 hours made up of two nights and one day at sea.

Day 14, Tuesday 28 February.  Port Sorell to Hells Gates (inside Cape Sorell)

By now you have probably gathered that there was a person called Sorell who was quite important for Tasmanians, and indeed there was.  Lieutenant Governor Sorell was a much loved early governor of Tasmania in the colonial times when the governor was second to no-one with respect to earthly matters for both the free settlers and the convicts.  However, there was at least one unimpressed person with influence who brought about Sorell’s early departure following the disclosure of the dastardly deed of having eloped with the wife of another army officer before he left Britain to become governor.  Even worse, she was the wife of an officer from the same regiment – which probably explains why he ended up in Tasmania.

Leaving Port Sorell we found Bass Strait in one of its typical moods, which means it was uncomfortable as a result of the combined action of a NE swell, a westerly swell and the waves from the 15kt easterly, which along with the motor pushed us towards the Hunter Group.  It was a rolly night as we ran before the easterly wind with only a mainsail.  We only needed to travel at 5kts or we would arrive too early for the west tide and we used the motor at slow revs to provide the additional speed, mainly because I was too lazy to set the genoa out with a pole.

The closest we were to Stanley!

At daybreak we no longer needed the motor, and after remembering a conversation with one of our fellow cruisers, I set the staysail very flat amidships and it reduced the viciousness of the rolls, particularly those that occurred about every 20 minutes when the combination of swells and waves would give Chakana a sharp roll that challenged the balance of the person on watch, and added to the sleep deprivation of the person in the sea berth.

The morning radio sched revealed that the VDL fleet anchored at Spiers Nook came to the same conclusion as us about taking advantage of the northerly wind and most departed before lunch.

Bird Island, Hunter Passage.

By midday we were in the Hunter Passage with 2kts of tide assisting us, which was also flowing with the wind and waves making for a comfortable and rapid ride through.  We popped out alongside Bird Island and the NE wind provided a very comfortable broad reach south.  Even though the wind was at 20+kts I was surprised at how placid the sea state was – by now were officially in the Southern Ocean and well south of the 40th parallel.  There was only the ubiquitous SW swell, but even though it had a height of 2m, the time between the peaks was 11s thus making them very gentle rollers that had no impact on our comfort or rate of progress.

Through Hunter Passage

We had a glorious sail south with only the mainsail and staysail required to maintain a speed of 6kts.  This combination puts no strain on Chakana or her crew.  Unfortunately the northern wind not only moderated at sunset, it disappeared, and so it was another night of motoring or sitting still going nowhere.  We chose the motor.

 

Sunset on way down the west coast.

Day 15, Wednesday 1 March.  Arrival at Hells Gates and Strahan

Hells Gates has a fearsome reputation, and justifiably so.  It is an entrance only 100m wide with rocks on both sides, a tide race coming out almost continuously often at 4 or more knots, that forms vicious walls of water if there have been strong NW winds for a few days.  For boats like ours with reliable diesels it is uncomfortable and wet to enter in the bad conditions, but unlikely to be deadly.  However, when shipping action was at its peak for Macquarie Harbour, many (most) of the vessels entering would have been large sailing vessels who made landfall at Cape Sorell after crossing the Southern Ocean.  You would have wanted to have your navigation correct.

Sunrise at Hells Gates

Our entry was when Hells Gates has probably been at its most placid for months, and we had no complaints about the lack of ‘challenge’.  Prior to arriving at Cape Sorell we were treated to a glorious sunrise over rows of mountain ranges.  This panorama is very common in Tasmania with its mountainous topography and we never tire of seeing it.

Hells Gates, entering Macquarie Harbour.

Two hours after entering Hells Gates we were anchored in the harbour in front of the pretty town of Strahan ready for a lay day.  In the afternoon we took the dinghy ashore to the wharf which is also the main tourist area of town.  A highlight to complete the day at the end of the long journey south was to participate in the long running pantomime ‘The Ship That Never Was’.  This is performed by two entertaining local actors and provides some historical context about the decade when Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour was used as penal settlement and then a thriving boat building industry using convict labour.

Sunset at Strahan.

Now it was time to start exploring the hinterland and the fabled Gordon and Franklin Rivers – more on them in the next blog.

VDL Rally – Schouten Passage to Tamar River

Schouten Passage to Tamar.

Schouten Passage to Tamar.

This section of the rally took us from the SE corner of Tasmania to the central north coast; which also happen to be the polar opposites of Tasmania if you listen to how the locals at each end speak about the people at the other end of the island.  They even have their own separate beers, albeit both now owned by two separate foreign brewers, and it is only a two hour drive between them.

The reason for going anticlockwise around Tasmania is that the general wind pattern around the coast of Tasmania results in fair winds (not from ahead) as we move around Tasmania.  So far this has proven to be a valid presumption, and may it continue for several more weeks.

Day 6, Monday 20 February.  Bryans Corner to Binalong Bay.

Sunrise at Schouten Passage

Sunrise at Schouten Passage

Alarm went off at 0500 and we had the anchor up at 0520, not a bad effort for a quick start but we would improve with the following days.  The wind was calm, but we had a lousy swell roll in through the night which meant we did not sleep a lot, Robina in particular who had visions of another shackle on the anchor failing whenever she heard the wind generator crank up in the gentle breezes.  This fear abated on the next nights after I told her that there is no shackle connecting the chain to our second anchor, and also that only when the sound levels of the wind in the rigging exceeds the noise of the wind generator that there will be some load on the anchor and its attachment link to the anchor chain.

Coastline around Wineglass Bay.

Coastline around Wineglass Bay.

We motored through the Schouten Passage in the early morning twilight and then started motor-sailing north to Binalong Bay, which was our target for the day, and as turned out, the target for most of the VDL fleet as well.  The south wind came in as forecast and we soon had the motor off and as the wind increased through the day, as it always does in Tasmania, then we gradually picked up speed and had a very pleasant sail.  The heavier boats like Chakana revel in these conditions and we scooted north with a poled out genoa and full mainsail.

 

Brenton reading 'Round The World With Rosinante' written by Jeremy Firth our radio relay vessel as Rosinante sails by!

Brenton reading ‘Round The World With Rosinante’ written by Jeremy Firth our radio relay vessel as Rosinante sails by!

 

We had a few rain squalls as well and once again we appreciated the investment in the all-round clears that we had installed in Brisbane.  The regular rainfall here has kept the decks and clears clean without any work for the deckhands – no complaints about that then.

 

Binalong Bay

Binalong Bay

Binalong Bay absorbed the fleet of 21 boats easily with plenty of swinging room for each.  With the cold damp weather prevailing, and after a long day afloat, the dinghies stayed on deck or in their davits.

 

 

Day 7, Tuesday 21 February.  Binalong Bay to Fosters Inlet.

Eddystone Point

Eddystone Point

Not such an early start, but we had the anchor up at 8.15am.  We were amongst the first to leave and we motored north in light conditions, with the breeze slowly filling in at times to assist with the motoring.  Eventually we were reaching along the coastline in the NE breezes.  We kept close to the coastline after Eddystone Point and enjoyed looking at the shore, most of which is national park.  Here the shore is mostly beaches with occasional rocky points.  There are still the dolerite intrusions that resist erosion, and these form numerous islands and partially or fully submerged rocks.  Hitting these is not an option in anything but a steel boat, and we watch our position on the chartplotter carefully.  One of the rules on Chakana is that the chartplotter in the cockpit remains on close to full zoom so that all rocks and other navigation hazards within less than five miles can be seen whenever someone glances at the screen.  We learnt that lesson a long time ago….

Boats following each other.

Boats following each other.

Chartplotter display showing the fleet following each other.

Chartplotter display showing the fleet following each other.

We timed our run north to pick up a favourable tidal stream through the notorious Banks Passage on the NE corner of Tasmania, and in particular when we going through the narrow gap between Swan Island and mainland Tasmania.  With the light wind conditions and almost no residual swell the passage past Swan Island was tranquil, but further into Banks Strait conditions deteriorated quickly.

Instruments showing tidal influence in Banks Strait.

Instruments showing tidal influence in Banks Strait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As forecast, the westerly arrived as soon as we were far enough north to be considered as being in Bass Strait along with the normal westerly swell that prevails in Bass Strait, but it was less than 1m.  Even in the relatively benign wind and swell against tide conditions, the seas were steep and causing the bow to buck and plunge vigorously.  We would not like to be challenging the seas if there was any sort of stiff westerly wind with its accompanying waves.  In those conditions we would probably choose to head the west going tide, even if it meant slow going for a couple of hours but with greater comfort, or more precisely with less discomfort.

Fosters Inlet

Fosters Inlet

Fosters Inlet was not an ideal anchorage because it is open to the west, but it was the only one around that could fit in this many boats.  The westerly winds were forecast to reduce at sunset, and maybe even go north.  This meant we all anchored on a lee shore, but the holding was good in firm sand and the wind moderated in the evening twilight. These modern anchors really do spoil you.  In the old days, it is unlikely that we would have contemplated anchoring on a lee shore like this one, although we did take the precaution of making sure that we had beach behind us and not rocks.  Dragging onto the sand would be a major pain in the butt, but not a disaster.  The alternative was to continue on to Waterhouse Island but this would have required two more hours of plugging into a westerly winds when they were at their strongest of 15-20kts.  Three of the VDL cruisers did this and were rewarded with a smooth night in the Homestead anchorage.

The wind went to zero overnight, but the swell kept coming in, making it a bit of a rolly night, but not too bad.  It did mean that there was no incentive to stay in the bunk, and we were off at 5.35am in a light NE breeze.

 

Day 8, Wednesday 22 February.  Fosters Inlet to Rosevears Pub, Tamar River.

Leaving Fosters Inlet at sunrise with windmills on horizon.

Leaving Fosters Inlet at sunrise with windmills on horizon.

Homestead Bay, Waterhouse Island.

Homestead Bay, Waterhouse Island.

Nicky J, the only catamaran in the fleet until another joins at the Hunter Group.

Nicky J, the only catamaran in the fleet until another joins at the Hunter Group.

Another early start, this time at 0535 after the alarm at 0520 – the early start routine is improving!  For the most part this was a mile killer day with light NE to E winds that were barely sufficient to keep the mainsail drawing.  We motored at our maximum cruising revs of 2,200rpm all day reaching the mouth of the Tamar River at 3pm, which was low tide at Low Head.

About two miles before reaching Low Head, the afternoon breeze finally kicked in and we had 15-20kt easterlies for the rest of daylight, which we were to appreciate as we motor-sailed up the Tamar.  All of the other VDL cruisers went to the Tamar Yacht Club at Beauty Point which is only a few miles upstream from Low Head.

Low Head at the mouth of the Tamar.

Low Head at the mouth of the Tamar.

Route along the Tamar River.

Route along the Tamar River.

The Tamar River is a 35 mile long submerged valley that extends to Launceston, which I guess was placed there originally because that is where the Tamar River is guaranteed to be fresh water as it runs out of the mountains in the hinterland.  The initial nine miles of the Tamar are a combination of natural beauty and industrial landscape, but an industrial landscape of interest to me because two of the former clients of IMIU are located there and I have made several visits to them, staying in George Town, which was established as a housing commission town to provide accommodation for the employees, but is now becoming rather gentrified judging by the houses on the riverbank.

Industrial area in the lower reaches of Tamar.

Industrial area in the lower reaches of Tamar.

After the initial industrialised section, the Tamar River has rolling hills coming down to the water, much of which is farmed in small lots, and supports a wide variety of agriculture including sheep, grain farming, and increasingly vineyards and other specialist produce.  Houses dot some of the shoreline because there is a major roadway on both sides of the valley.  It reminded us very much of the upper reaches of the Thames River but with less boats and houses, and of course the trees have that distinctive green hue of eucalypts.  We continued upstream to Rosevears, which is the last of the waterway with guaranteed deep water, from then on it is local knowledge and following the beacons carefully. For visitors it is best to continue past here with a flood tide so that you do not spend too long on the mud when/if that occurs.  Rosevears has a public pontoon opposite the excellent Rosevears Pub, and we tied up there for two nights.  We went to the pub and had an excellent meal of mussels, chips and salad washed down with a superb Riesling from the Devil’s Corner winery, which we had passed only an hour before.  The Clare Valley in SA has some serious competition with the quality of these Rieslings.

Batman Bridge heading upstream.

Batman Bridge heading upstream.

2.4 knots tide assist under Batman Bridge.

2.4 knots tide assist under Batman Bridge.

Will we fit?

Will we fit?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chakana on the pontoon at Rosevears.

Chakana on the pontoon at Rosevears.

Day 9, Thursday 23 February.  Still at the Rosevears Pub landing!

Windemere across the river.

Windemere across the river.

We were surprised that only one of the others from the fleet that arrived with us in the Tamar ventured up to see what is a very picturesque part of Tasmania.  The upside of this is that we did not feel in the least bit guilty (well I didn’t, but Robina still has some of the Calvinist guilt trips) about hogging the pontoon at Rosevears which is provided by MAST (Marine and Safety Tasmania) and has a nominal 3-hour time limit.  We only saw one boat go past and it clearly was going into Launceston.

Although there was no need to rush in the morning, I was awake early and laid in our bunk listening to the dawn chorus of the kookaburras and roosters – the wild and domestic – that epitomises the blend of the eucalypt forest and developed land on the Tamar shoreline.

New anchor installed on the bow.

New anchor installed on the bow.

Being only a few kilometres from downtown Launceston we took the opportunity to take a taxi into town, pick up the new anchor and Robina went to the hairdresser while I looked around downtown Launceston.  It is an interesting mixture of the usual High St brands but also some of the traditional retailers such as Allgoods, which as it name suggests has a huge range of clothing, shoes, boots, camping gear etc, and with traditional service – remember that?  Maybe some of the Melbourne retailers could rediscover it and a few less may go broke.

The chandlery (shop for boat gear), Tamar Marine, was a revelation – I have not seen a chandlery anywhere with this level of stock and number of staff, who were all very helpful when required to be.  They not only had the particular anchor and size that I wanted, but there was at least two dozen other anchors also in stock.  A complete range of swivels, shackles (which included the cheap Chinese ones, but also the proof tested ones that are essential for security when anchoring) and a myriad of other hardware items were all there including three different brands of diesel powered heaters for a boat.  We will resist the temptation to install one of these, although they did have a stand-alone alcohol fuelled cabin heater……  More importantly, they did have a rare earth magnet that can lift up to 100kg and so the next time the anchor falls off in deep water, I will be ready.

Day 10, Friday 24 February.  Back downstream to the Tamar Yacht Club (TYC)

Reflections on The Tamar.

Reflections on The Tamar.

Reflections on the Tamar.

Reflections on the Tamar.

Batman Bridge heading downstream.

Batman Bridge heading downstream.

Breathe easier this time going under!

Breathe easier this time going under!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tamar River is very tidal with a strong stream of up 1.5-2kts and so it is one where you work with the tides rather than against them.  Opposite Rosevears there is a yacht moored and we waited until it swung around on its mooring shortly after 11.00am before setting off downstream with the ebb tide assisting us all the way to the TYC. We watched the scenery slide by once again as we motored in mirror calm water – apart from the whirlpools in the 3kt tide flow through the narrow section under the Batman Bridge.  It was good to catch up with the remainder of the fleet that were still tied up in the TYC marina and we enjoyed an evening meal at the Riviera Hotel with the outgoing and incoming crews of Aquacadabra.

Tamar Yacht Club.

Tamar Yacht Club.

RBYC crews of Aquacadabra and Chakana at Tamar Yacht Club on crew changeover day.

RBYC crews of Aquacadabra and Chakana at Tamar Yacht Club on crew changeover day.

The forecast for the next week is for easterly and SE breezes across the whole northern coast of Tasmania – perfect for exploring this coast with there being no particular rush because the next planned group barbeque on the beach is on Three Hummock Island in a week’s time.  At the time of writing it appears that we will have a series of day hops between anchorages, but Huey may have other plans that have yet to be revealed to the meteorologists and us.